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Key takeaways from the 2016 education report card data

November 20, 2016

The state Department of Education released the 2016 district report cards last week, accountability tools designed to show how individual schools and districts are making progress on indicators like standardized test scores and graduation rates.

They also reveal significant disparities between wealthy and poor schools, and white and black students, across the Lowcountry, particularly in Charleston County. Here are a few important findings from the data:

Charleston County Schools have the highest — and lowest — rates of poverty.

No school district in the Lowcountry is as economically segregated as Charleston County schools. In fact, according to Ryan Brown, chief communications officers of the state Department of Education, the Charleston County School District may be the most economically stratified district in the state.

“Charleston is a strange anomaly,” Brown said. “I think Charleston, of any of the districts, has the largest discrepancy between, I guess you would say, rich and poor. You have some of the wealthiest of the wealthy and the poorest of the poor, and they’re not that far away from each other.”

The state report cards measure each district and school’s “poverty index,” a composite of the percentage of students who are eligible for Medicaid services and/or free and reduced-price meals.

In CCSD, about 53 percent of students qualify for those services, fewer than in Berkeley County School District (57 percent) and Dorchester District 4 (74 percent). But Charleston County is home to the 20 poorest schools in the tri-county region, including 15 predominately black schools where the poverty indices are roughly 90 percent or higher. On the flip side, 11 of the region’s 13 wealthiest schools, where the poverty indices are below 20 percent, also reside in Charleston County, most of them in Mount Pleasant and are majority-white.

Five poorest schools Poverty index Chicora Elementary 96.32 Mary Ford Elementary 95.85 Simmons-Pinckney Middle 95.65 Greg Mathis Charter High 95.65 Mitchell Elementary 94.94

Five richest schools Poverty index Academic Magnet High 5.41 East Cooper Montessori Charter 8.22 Buist Academy 11.23 Sullivan’s Island Elementary 11.44 Charles Pinckney Elementary 15.51

Girls graduate at higher rates than boys, and white students at higher rates than black students — most of the time.

The four-year graduation rate across the Lowcountry varies widely by district, race and gender. In Charleston County, the graduation rate for boys (77 percent), for instance, is about 5 percentage points lower than the district rate (83 percent) and more than 10 percentage points lower than the rate for girls (88 percent). While white students in CCSD graduate at a rate of nearly 91 percent, black students graduate at a rate of just 75 percent — the widest disparity between black and white students in the tri-county area. These trends are reversed, however, in Dorchester District 4, where boys and black students have higher graduation rates than girls and white students.

School District Overall graduation rate Male graduation rate Female graduation rate White student graduation rate Black student graduation rate Dorchester 2 87.82 84.82 90.93 89.04 85.04 Dorchester 4 85.80 88.1 83.53 82.67 87.34 Charleston 83.02 77.48 88.40 90.97 75.12 Berkeley 81.72 77.36 86.58 82.73 82.74

Teacher turnover tends to afflict high-poverty and rural schools

At 12 schools in the tri-county region, including 10 in Charleston County, roughly 30 percent or more teachers didn’t return to work in 2016. All had large concentrations of low-income students. Three of the six schools with the highest turnover — Lincoln, St. James-Santee and Baptist Hill — were rural and mostly black. Turnover typically affects teachers in the first five years of their career, said Melanie Barton, executive director of the state Education Oversight Committee. They become frustrated with their working conditions.

“We’re finding in the research more often than not is the working conditions in the schools (are better predictors of teacher turnover),” Barton said. “It’s how well the teachers feel valued, it’s leadership, it’s does he or she feel supported and engaged?”

School name Percentage of teachers returning in 2016 from previous year Greg Mathis Charter High 55.6 James Simons Elementary 65.0 Lincoln Middle-High 65.2 St. James-Santee Elementary 65.7 Burns Elementary 67.7 Baptist Hill Middle-High 67.7

Students at high-poverty schools face more out-of-school suspensions and expulsions

State report cards also measure the percentage of students in each school who are suspended or expelled for violent or criminal offenses, an important indicator of school climate. Seven of the schools with the highest percentage of these students were in Charleston County, and four were middle schools. All were high-poverty and predominately black.

Schools name Percentage of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions North Charleston High 11.5 Morningside Middle 10.1 Stall High 10 Sedgefield Middle School 9.7 Simmons Pinckney Middle 8.3 Garrett Academy of Technology 7.8 Northwoods Middle 7.4 West Ashley Middle School 7.3

Jon Hale, a professor of education at the College of Charleston, said these data reveal a need for “fundamental changes in the education” of students affected by poverty, such as higher salaries for teachers, along with mentorship, rigorous professional development and additional classroom supports.

“Our system may be making incremental improvement. What we’re not making is the fundamental changes,” Hale said. “We really have to put pressure on the local and state level.”